Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Book Review: The Last Dragonslayer

Title: The Last Dragonslayer
Author: Jasper Fforde
Year Published: 2010
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Comedy, Young Adult

Jennifer Strange is the fifteen-year-old acting manager of Kazam, an employment agency for magicians. Though once a noble calling, magic has gradually been fading from the Ununited Kingdoms and its practitioners are now reduced to delivering pizza and unblocking drains. Life is not easy for Jennifer: the use of magic is heavily regulated, sorcerers are a volatile lot and work is hard to come by. But it's only when a sudden resurgence of magic coincides with a prophecy of the death of the last dragon that the trouble really starts.

The Last Dragonslayer is a delightful read; it's fun, fast and doesn't take itself too seriously. There is a generous dose of humour throughout the book and I found myself rereading sentences at times out of pure glee. Literary and scientific allusions fly thick and fast and modern life is satirised, including big business and the cult of celebrity. For this reason, adults can find much to enjoy in this book, despite it being written to a younger audience. Fforde's brand of funny may be a bit “cute” for some, but I found it right up my alley.

The world is like an alternative version of ours and its history and magic system are quite detailed and interesting. Unfortunately, this results in a few info-dump/talking heads scenarios, in which things that you might have guessed are explained quite thoroughly and the action is slowed right down (hopefully, this means that sequels The Song of the Quarkbeast and The Return of Shandar will reap the benefits of past exposition). And yet despite this extensive world-building, I found that there were sometimes gaps in the descriptions – for example, in one scene, I had assumed the only people present were Jennifer and the King's men until a lady suddenly faints; in another I spent most of the time wondering where the Quarkbeast had got to. These are very minor complaints though, quite possibly caused by my own lack of imagination.

Given how early the dragon stuff is mentioned, I was impatient for the plot to progress more quickly than it did. Can't say I really minded though, since I enjoyed it the whole way through. For some reason, I had expected something a bit more epic, which this really isn't. It's more of a light-hearted adventure, best read for its prose and its quirks, rather than the plot as such.

Needless to say, I really liked this book; the world and its magic were peculiar in a clever yet mundane way and I thought it was really quite funny (though of course, humour is subjective and Fforde's may just be the sort to set your teeth on edge). It's easy to read and accessible to anyone. Recommended for fans of Harry Potter and Terry Pratchett and anyone looking for a light and witty read.

Alex's Rating: 4/5

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